“Steve Bannon was a man of vision,” the columnist David P. Goldman told Alex Marlow of Breitbart News in August. Certainly. Goldman also is sound in his belief that “the loss of [Bannon’s] counsel to the president will hurt the United States.”
Bannon was the only one in the public eye warning of the economic threat China poses to the United States. He had tapped into the nationalist-populist zeitgeist that was bubbling to the surface years before working for Donald Trump. And, regardless what the White House may claim today, there can be little doubt that Bannon was a crucial player in Donald Trump’s victory (though, Trump is right: only Trump is ultimately responsible for his win in 2016).
The same thing could be said of President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner: he played a crucial part in Trump’s election. I never took the easy line of castigating the president for placing his son-in-law in a position of high responsibility—despite having several more qualified (at least on paper) people available.
Fact is, Kushner has accomplished successfully almost every task he’s been given. The president credited Kushner with the brilliant diplomatic move of selling arms to Saudi Arabia. This move shored up Saudi Arabia’s support for the administration’s vital efforts to contain Iran. Also, the president claims Kushner has played a large role in renewing our relationship with Israel.
But keep this in mind: many of Kushner’s efforts weren’t peculiar to him. The idea of selling arms to Saudi Arabia, for example, was in keeping with decades of U.S. foreign policy decisions in the Mideast. Meanwhile, the decision to shore up U.S.-Israeli relations was a no-brainer after eight years of malign-neglect under the Obama Administration. In other words, Kushner did not bring anything innovative or new to the table. He simply mimicked what other, more experienced people have done before him.
Michael Wolff’s forthcoming book, “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” is the talk of the town this week. Wolff reports, among other things, that President Trump is “childlike” and that he and his administration “lurch” from crisis-to-crisis each day—particularly before the arrival of former Marine Corps General John Kelly as White House chief of staff. Many people blame Steve Bannon for much of the chaos that stunted progress for months at the beginning of Trump’s historic presidency.
However, we mustn’t forget that much of the chaos that the administration endured early on was due to the fact that Jared Kushner was on the warpath against Bannon and his economic nationalists (to say nothing of the ongoing “deep state” assault on Trump’s legitimacy as president). It was Kushner who aligned early on with the Goldman Sachs folks (who now dominate the Trump Administration’s economic policy shop). The financiers from Wall Street are democratic globalists, who are naturally at odds with economic nationalists. Bannon’s ouster was the inevitable result of the infighting. Bannon also took on the Republican establishment in Congress, as he was fighting against the democratic globalists in the White House.
All in all, Bannon simply made too many enemies in Washington. Clearly, Bannon was not an exceptionally skilled bureaucratic infighter (he was a self-admitted “street fighter”). In fact, Bannon’s problem was likely that he was too honest about his intentions for his own good.
President Trump says that Bannon is “crazy” (not so), and that he’s only in it for himself. Maybe so. One needs a bit of an ego in this business to make it. But, the one thing we should never deny is that Bannon and his economic nationalists were critical for Trump’s victory in 2016 because President Trump’s populist message was largely one of economic nationalism. To abandon that message, and those who believe in that message, would be dangerous going into the 2018 midterms.
What’s more, President Trump needs to understand that Kushner’s purported financial improprieties are fueling Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump Administration at this point. They—not Bannon (or economic nationalism)—are to blame for Trump’s current predicament. Trump should remember these truths and keep his ire trained on those in the White House responsible for the missteps of the administration’s first year.
So, while I appreciate Bannon’s worldview, I didn’t vote for him on November 4, 2016. I didn’t vote for Jared Kushner, either. I voted for Donald Trump. And, for the most part, I’ve been made very happy with that vote.
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